from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Thursday, 2 October 2014

from the ragbag

Alan Bennett was on R4 this morning speaking on Larkin: 'He's famous for his fear of death; and he's famous for his fear of life, too.' Yep, that sounds like a poet.

Someone on the Today programme was reminding us of the potency of memorising poems, and the fact that so few people do now. The same Someone is, I think, part of a study researching the benefits of this, and the role poetry has to play in, say, Alzheimer's. I do know how my mother lit up in the later stages of Alzheimer's when I went to visit her at the care home, and read poetry for an hour to her and anyone else who wanted to hear it. When I read the W B Yeats poem 'Down by the Salley Gardens' my mother would remember it as a song, and her face would light up, and she'd sing it in her sweet voice.

There's a whole raft of research into this, actually: poetry as therapy, or bibliotherapy. Unsurpassed.

I only know one poem by heart, also a Yeats poem; or so I thought. Then I remembered that I know that wonderful poem by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king
Then I remembered that Justin Hayward, of the Moody Blues, set that to music. I think.

I also remembered that I know a rather beautiful little poem from ELP's version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, entitled 'The Sage'. 'I carry the dust of a journey / that will not be shaken away...' etc. Not sure whether Mussorgsky wrote the lyrics, or ELP; but you can check it out here:

... and in fact any number of part-remembered poems. Autumn resolution: learn another poem by heart.

The relevance of all this? Well, it's National Poetry Day, isn't it?

I've been leaving the house very early each morning this week to cross the moor to inspire what feels like a vast number of schoolchildren, back to back, to write poems that they don't necessarily want to write about subjects of less moment to them, perhaps, than writing about rugby, or their pets. What's more, today we've (by which I mean 'they've') had, with my help, to create, draft, peer-edit, learn and rehearse those poems (on place, home and the environment) for tomorrow's slam, involving a number of local primaries and several sets in the secondary school. And, er, I'm the judge, apparently instructing the principal of the college and various other notable figures in how to judge a slam. And – well, I don't know that I approve of competition. How to award them all a first prize for being the best they can be, themselves, right now?


A bonus is the incredible and dramatic drive over Dartmoor – at its most beautiful, perhaps, in the changing skies and flaming palette of fox-reds, siennas, terracottas, ochres, golds that autumn brings amongst the gorse and heather. The towering clouds, the fierce shafts of light, the blue-on-blue of Bodmin Moor in the distance, the rusty amber of the beeches, the fat knotted strings of river-mist hovering at the treelines ahead, the thumbprint of smeary silver at the edge that is the Tamar River – heartstopping moments at every turn. Not a bad commute.


What devastating news that the world has lost 52% of its wildlife since 1970 due to human agency. What more can one say about that, except how hard it is to live in a world with such high levels of destruction and ignorance, and fear that we can't turn it around.

Well, the local badgers may be in for it again, if the NFU has its way. But good on the National Trust for has standing up to the NFU bullies for its policy on vaccinating at the Devon HQ at Killerton; you can read it here:


And speaking of destruction, my hero the iconoclast George Monbiot wrote a piece this week, 'Bomb Everyone': 'Barack Obama has now bombed seven largely-Muslim countries, in each case citing a moral imperative. The result, as you can see in Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan,Yemen, Somalia and Syria, has been the eradication of jihadi groups, of conflict, chaos, murder, oppression and torture. Evil has been driven from the face of the earth by the destroying angels of the west.' (

What to think about our current involvement in Iraq – the new one – other than arriving back over and over at a deep sense of fear, unease and despair that our current initiative is unlikely to help, only to fuel the rage. Two people who know the situation intimately but from quite different perspectives were adamant on R4 this morning that this is not the way to go: that diplomatic talking and negotiating, quietly, behind the scenes, has ultimately brought about the change needed in so many situations, from the IRA to the Taliban. (Sorry to be vague as to the 'whos': I was driving so couldn't jot down the names that I didn't know.)


OK, I'm going to finish on a bright note: a local Devon farmer said to me once: 'Our very survival depends on two inches of topsoil and timely sun and rainfall.'

Well, we and the weather got it right this year: we've had one of the best harvests ever, due to the wonderful sun and our locally-sourced horse-muck and seaweed fertilisers (apart from the potatoes, which normally see us through almost to the next year's first earlies, and this year, to TM's despondency, we lost half to the slugs which live in the soil).

So in between huge numbers of workshops and a little of my own writing, this autumn much of my energy is going into picking, preserving and storing the sweetcorn, pea beans, squashes, onions, artichokes, and apples. (Anyone know good ways of storing an ocean of kale? Anyone made kalekraut successfully?)

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